"In order to have the power to say yes, you have to have the power to say no." ~ Kristin B. Hodson
When people come to see me wanting to enhance their pleasure, I always first encourage them to have a conversation about boundaries and agreements. While boundaries may not seem glamorous, fun, or even relevant when we're wanting to expand our sexual connection, they are ultimately the invisible layer that provides safety for people to let go, to take a sexual risk, to open up, and to be sexually known.
Think about skydiving. Most people who want to go skydiving are looking forward to the thrill, the freedom of falling, and a new experience. All of that is possible because of the safety provided by a well-trained instructor, clear guidance, and most of all: a parachute! When people know they are safe it allows them to sink into the pleasure of the experience.
Sex is the same way. When we create a container of safety built by boundaries and agreements it creates room for us to experience increased connection and pleasure. Why? Because then we know trust and mutual understanding will be part of the experience.
Let's start off with boundaries. Boundaries are largely focused on our individual limits, what we don’t want, and our own needs. Boundaries serve to protect us and guide people how to engage with us. They are often centered on safety, protection, and keeping out what we don’t want in.
- I don't want you to touch my butt in the kitchen.
- I don't want to give oral sex after a work out.
- I don't want sex when my parents are in town.
However, If we only focus on safety or boundaries, we are often left with an experience that is the equivalent of a lukewarm bowl of oatmeal. Remembering the the skydiving analogy, it’s the rush of something exciting and pleasurable that propels people toward the experience and knowing one is safe is what enables that. Boundaries alone rarely get people closer to what they want sexually. You wouldn't want to go sky-diving if the experience ONLY included safety classes and not the actual jump and dive.
The agreements we make move us toward health and pleasure. Agreements are often born out of boundaries and are based on what we want. They include what we are agreeing to uphold, what we are willing to do, and come with shared ownership and accountability. Agreements are created together and mutually desired.
- I do want you to touch my butt in the bedroom.
- I do want to give oral sex after a shower.
- I would love to have sex once my parents have left for home.
Let's take a lesson from our friends Baby and Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing.
Boundaries help you identify what is your dance space and what is their dance space so you can better dance!
In a nutshell, Boundaries are about 'me' and agreements are about ‘we’.
If you are coming from a place of not knowing how to talk about sex, boundaries and agreements can support you in creating the kind of experiences you’d like to have. If you come from a place of sexual trauma or abuse, boundaries and agreements can create the safety you may not have experienced before. Boundaries and agreements are what allow people to step further into creating the kind of sexual relationship they want.
“Think of each other’s boundaries as a road map for sexual pleasure and emotional well-being in a relationship.” - Erin Taylor
Here's a quick and easy exercise to get you started on thinking about your boundaries. This is called a WANT/WILL/WON'T Exercise. To get going, download this worksheet, print two copies grab some sticky notes and a pen. Each partner should complete the sheet on their own, then look at them together to define boundaries and agreement as a partnership.
The purpose of this exercise is to get more clear about what you want to do sexually, what you are willing to do sexually and what you do not want to do sexually, hence the WANT/WILL/WON'T. It will also facilitate more conversation and peak curiosity.
On your sticky notes start writing down ideas of what you want, what you don't want and what you are willing/open to doing sexually. For example, oral sex. If that is something you are wanting, write it down and put it in the want column. If it's something you aren't wanting, put it in the won't column. There are no right or wrong answers. This is an exercise in information and clarity. Fill up the want/will/won't paper and use it to springboard conversation.
You may find that you have things on your want list and those same things are on your partners won't list. This is where working to communicate and finding common ground around differences will help energize your sexual experiences together. Take the opportunity to understand what factors make something a no as well as a yes.
You can do a want/will/won't for your relationship in general, for an upcoming trip, or for the holiday season. You can revisit your boundaries and agreements quarterly or annually or keep a running dialogue going by hanging your want/will/won't in your bathroom or closet. Like your relationship, boundaries and agreements will grow, evolve and change. What you wanted when you were 20 may not be what you want when you're 40. What you were closed off to before having a baby might now be something you're willing to try. Whatever the case is for you, intentionally exploring boundaries and agreements will can become an empowering and energizing part of a satisfying sex life.